Saturday, July 23, 2011

Child Soldiers as adults...

Last week, the first Ugandan war crimes trial opened in northern Uganda. Thomas Kwoyelo has been charged with 53 counts of willful killing, hostage-taking, destruction of property and causing injury. Thomas, now 39, has denied all charges.

This trial has me thinking a lot about the use of child soldiers and the implications of a child growing up within an army environment. It has been reported that Thomas joined the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1987. That would make him 15 years old when he began his life with the Ugandan rebel army. Did Thomas really have a say in his role? Did he have a chance to be a teenager? Did he want to commit the crimes that he committed? As evidence has confirmed, Thomas played a leading role in the conflict led by the LRA during his adult years. However, did Thomas have a say when he first joined the LRA? Did he have a choice when he was forced into committing crimes under his commander’s orders?

In both Police and Paicho primary schools we promote peace, understanding, and human rights among students. Things change though when someone’s life is put at stake. We can teach children to pursue peaceful behavior in their lives but when adults take advantage of children in a conflict situation, many will be forced to go against what they believe in and what they believe is the right thing to do.

As the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers states on its website, ‘The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.’ As a child you do not have a say in whether you fight; it is something you do to stay alive. Thomas is responsible for the crimes he has committed but did he really have a choice in his initial involvement? When it comes to fight or die, as a 15 year old, which would you choose?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Children poorly taught in East Africa…

This week an article was printed in the Daily Monitor entitled ‘East Africa children poorly taught – a report’. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t surprise me.

IPEP has been working in northern Ugandan schools now for 2 years and we have seen the ins and outs that go on in primary education. Our staff has met with the Board of Education, the National Curriculum Development Board and many consultants involved in education here in Uganda. Unfortunately, the same conclusion always emerges; the education system in Uganda is failing more than succeeding.

The problem is not only in the classroom though; it is the entire structure of the educational system. Ugandan teachers are not supported and most of the time not respected. We’ve seen it time and time again where teachers do not receive their salaries, and yet they must stay or else they would be unemployed. When teachers are not paid, they are not motivated. Therefore, they tend to not show up for classes, do not prepare lessons, and do not really have a reason for working. The person that suffers the most in this situation is the student.

Daily Monitor reports that In Uganda and Tanzania, pass rates were at 4 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. “There is a crisis of learning in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Governments are proud of their achievements in expanding school enrolments. But they should now not hide behind these achievements, and focus instead on making sure that children in school are in fact learning,” reads part of the report released last month.

Our Program Director, Miriam Wertlieb, has met with education officials continuously and stated that ‘the current education system is not working, and this is why they are in the process of overhauling it completely to make the system better and improve the education that Ugandan children receive.’

This is great news and for the students of Uganda, we hope its impacts will be seen sooner than later.

Read more about the report here.